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New Year, Same Me!

Brace yourselves for the new year mantra of detox, diets and exercise! 'New year, new you,' is all we hear, but really, is such a radical cleanse of the seasonal excesses totally necessary? After all, we are marooned in the middle of this grey, wet winter and surely some heartwarming comfort food and a little tipple wouldn't go amiss.

So here is my proposal, let's compromise and save the green juice cleanse, the multitude of orthodox salads and the fat-free diet meal plan for a later date and enjoy a little bit of what we fancy. I'm not refuting the wise words of our health gurus and I'm not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination, that we tuck indiscriminately into greasy fried food, but practise some semblance of moderation. 

We spent December looking forward to Christmas parties, luxurious foods and feasting. Rather than being a month of totally abstaining from life's enjoyable perks, January should have some sort of balance and why not embrace the healthy stuff? Let's make it simple, light and fresh. Courgette spaghetti or 'Courgetti,' as it is known by trendy food fashionistas, has revolutionised my life. You are hoodwinked into believing that you are devouring a bowlful of comforting pasta, but without all the starchy carb heaviness. The courgette spaghetti is prepared using a spiralizer, a julienne peeler, or even the humble kitchen knife. I kid you not, once you start making vegetable pasta, your imagination will start to run riot. I've teamed up my gluten free courgetti with an avocado pesto which adds a silky creaminess. It's fast, tasty, nutritious, satisfying, uber guilt-free and you can eat it by the bucket load. With the momentum of the New Year and all this feel-good food, I'm going to resolve to start my January fitness regime! Happy 2016!

Courgetti with Avocado Pesto

Serves 2

  • 250g Courgette

Pesto

  • 1 ripe Avocado
  • 1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Spring Onion, finely chopped
  • Juice of half small Lime
  • Half Green Chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp plus extra for the topping, Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
  • 15g fresh Coriander
  • 1 tbsp Pine Nuts
  • 0.5 tsp Salt or to taste

Method

  • The courgette needs to be spiralized to make it into spaghetti. You can use a julienne peeler, or a knife if you don't have a spiralizer. Set aside once done.
  • Place one tablespoon of olive oil into a small frypan and heat up on a medium setting. Place the chopped garlic into the olive oil and fry for around 30 seconds. Do not allow it to brown and take it off the heat and set aside.
  • Peel and chop the avocado into a bowl and mix in the lime juice and add the salt. Using a fork, just mash the avocado until it is smooth.
  • Into a herb mill, or small food processor, add the chilli, coriander, pine nuts and spring onion and blitz.
  • Add this mixture from the herb mill into the avocado, along with the garlic and the Parmesan cheese and mix it all together.
  • In a large fry pan or wok, add a tablespoon of olive oil and on a medium to high setting heat up the oil. Add the courgetti and cook for 1-2 minutes and then add the pesto. Take the pan off the heat and the pesto will stay warm in the residual heat.
  • Serve the Courgetti immediately and sprinkle over some more Parmesan cheese on top.
  • Serve the Courgetti as a light meal, or as an accompaniment to any meat, chicken, fish or vegetable dish of your choice.

Tips

  • When using Parmesan cheese, always use Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • I always make double the amount of avocado pesto and use half of it in the Courgetti and keep half in my fridge to serve with any main dish, or as a dip with crudités, or even as a spread in sandwiches or on toast.



Say Cheese

I've just returned from the City of Angels and boy am I missing that Southern Californian sunshine! Los Angeles is a city I'm fortunate enough to visit regularly, as I have a son who lives there, in fact I'll go as far as to consider myself an honorary Angeleno! It's not about smiling, posing and saying cheese in front of the iconic Hollywood sign, oh no Los Angeles is all about the impressive dining scene. Being a devoted food-lover, LA is quite honestly a foodie mecca and it's the diversity of cuisines available which astounds me. The quality of gourmet food is unrivalled and the dilemma arises when deciding on what to eat, once you've got to grips with such prodigious choices.

The food scene in LA has changed markedly. The food truck explosion offers not only excellent high end food, but with the added bonus of being on a budget as well. One of the most famous is the Kogi BBQ truck, under the direction of Chef Roy Choi, which serves up gourmet fusion Korean Mexican tacos to discerning Angelenos. The food truck platform has evolved and if it's a late night grilled cheese sandwich, taco chaat or a lobster roll which satiates your hunger, it's all within easy reach.  

If something a little more refined takes your fancy LA has it all. Whether you want Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian, farm-to-table, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, zero carb, healthy, unhealthy, it's all there. Yes La La Land, a very apt moniker by the way, will actually render you into a state of unconsciousness, a food coma in fact, with this dizzying array of options. My never-ending bucket list of restaurants in LA just keeps growing every time I visit. All food aficionados will head straight to Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa establishments, but there's a Japanese inspired restaurant Hinoki and the Bird, which has a fabulous cocktail menu, many of them being fruit inspired. The food is very tactile and our senses are heightened by the use of innovative cooking methods. The lobster roll is genuinely a rave for your tastebuds. The citrus, basil piquancy of the lobster is the antithesis of the charcoaled bread roll. Sublime!

Gjelina is a favourite farm-to-table restaurant in a health obsessed corner of LA. The eggplant caponata on toast with burrata, pine nuts and balsamic is a mandatory choice as far as I'm concerned. Its big, bold, brash flavours are complemented by the delicate, creamy burrata. Bottega Louie is a no-reservations buzzing downtown Italian restaurant with a French patisserie, housed in a palatial Romanseque revival style building. Be prepared for sizeable portions, huge crowds and a cacophony of chefs, waiters and diners, but Bottega Louie has worked out the formula for success. Despite the grandiose, imposing, stately decor, the restaurant is very moderately priced. For appetisers, you absolutely must get the crab beignets...totally addictive! You have to order the thin-crusted Italian style pizza in any flavour that takes your fancy, but the proscuitto di Parma with burrata and rapini will have you reminiscing long after you've left. And if you don't have any room left for dessert, you can always buy the pastries, cakes or macarons, lined up in glass cases with military precision. LA has too many convivial restaurants for me to visit, and on leaving this extraordinary food city I suffer from separation anxiety; from my son of course! What else? 

I want to share a very simple recipe that I created for my love of burrata, the most delicious Southern Italian cheese. Burrata is a Puglian speciality and has an outer shell of mozzarella and the inside is filled with ribbons of mozzarella and cream (stracciatella), which gives it that rich, buttery, creamy texture. Burrata used to be quite difficult to find, so you can't imagine how thrilled I am, that I can now buy fresh burrata from my local Waitrose. This simple salad with heirloom tomatoes, avocado and topped with torn soft burrata is embellished with my coriander and pistachio pesto and it is a fresh salad to enjoy the last hurrah of summer.

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado & Burrata Salad with Coriander & Pistachio Pesto

Serves 4

  • 400g Mixed Heirloom Tomatoes
  • 1 Avocado
  • 200g Burrata Cheese
  • 35g Coriander
  • Handful of Pistachio Nuts
  • 1 Clove Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated
  • 75ml Olive Oil
  • Salt to taste

Method

  • Make the pesto by blitzing the coriander, pistachio nuts and olive oil in a herb mill, food processor or even a pestle and mortar. Once done, place into a small bowl.
  • Fry the chopped garlic in a frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, until it starts to turn golden, which should take a couple of minutes. Add into the coriander mixture and add the parmesan cheese. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Set this aside.
  • Chop the tomatoes into bite-size pieces and arrange them onto a platter.
  • Slice the avocado and add them to the tomato platter.
  • Roughly tear the burrata and place randomly onto the platter.
  • Drizzle the pesto and a little extra olive oil and serve.

Tips

  • Heirloom or heritage tomatoes are available in most supermarkets. They are colourful and their flavour is superior. Sustainable farming methods are used to grow them.
  • If you do not like coriander, then you can substitute it for basil to make the pesto.



Time to Detox?

The term 'detox' is being bandied around rather a lot these days. We are told that we need to detox physically, mentally and emotionally. This colloquialism refers to healthy eating, healthy living and healthy thinking. We are lured into a world of smoothies bursting with greens, spiralized vegetables hoodwinking us into thinking we are eating pasta, super finely grated vegetables impersonating rice; and salads loaded with micro leaves, sprouted beans, seeds and nuts. Does all this healthy eating cleanse our chocolate binging, our overt weekend wine quaffing or our post-drinking craving for greasy foods?

Admittedly, I've been quite cynical about all the detox hype, despite the fact I'm all for nutritious, healthy eating. Freshly pressed vegetable juices are a great boost to our immune systems and fresh leafy green cruciferous salads are full of antioxidants. The star of the show at the moment is kale, it's the trending superfood vegetable of the season. From Beyonce's kale t-shirt to Gwyneth Paltrow advocating kale chips, kale it seems is here to stay. It has made an appearance in every supermarket and curly kale is King. With its anti-cancerous properties and with enormous amount of iron and calcium, it's definitely the super model on the catwalk of vegetables and it's strutting its stuff!

So in honour of the mighty kale, I've decided to follow the herd and I've created my very own detox kale salad. 

Detox kale salad

Serves 4-6

  • 200g Kale, very finely shredded or grated with the stalks removed
  • 300g Red Cabbage, shredded or finely grated
  • 2 Carrots, shredded or finely grated
  • 2 Tomatoes, chopped into small dice
  • 1 Red Pepper, chopped into small dice
  • 2 Ripe Avocados, peeled and chopped
  • 110g Paneer, chopped into small cubes (Optional)
  • 1 400g Can Kala Channa (Dark Brown Chickpeas), drained and rinsed 
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Lime
  • 50g Coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Green Chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 Handful of Pine Nuts

Method

  • Place the very finely chopped kale into a large bowl.
  • Add the red cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, red pepper, avocados, paneer, chickpeas, pine nuts and the coriander. 
  • Mix everything together and add the juice of the lemon and the lime.
  • Add the salt and the green chilli and mix well into the salad.
  • Allow the salad to rest in the fridge for at least thirty minutes, allowing the flavours to develop and the citrus to work its magic on the kale before serving.

Tips

  • You can toast the pine nuts in a dry frypan on a low to medium heat for a couple of minutes. Just keep an eye on them as they burn very quickly.
  • I sometimes chop up leftover homemade polenta into cubes and shallow fry until crispy. Sprinkle over the salad just before serving.
  • Cans of kala channa (dark brown chickpeas) are available from some supermarkets, however if you can't get these, just use a can of the regular chickpeas. The kala channa has a much nuttier flavour than regular chickpeas.
  • This salad is also the perfect accompaniment to my brunch dish, Indian Eggs with Tomatoes and Paneer.

Al Fresco

I'm longing to feel the sun on my skin. I want to sit and eat al fresco just as we did six weeks ago when we enjoyed the clement weather during the days leading up to my son's wedding. It actually feels more like October, rather than June. But hey ho, I'm not going to let that dampen my spirits and I'm going full steam ahead with my summertime plans for al fresco dining. The tandoori chicken mini fillets recipe that I posted yesterday can be cooked on the barbecue after marinating overnight. Enjoy sipping your mint, lemon verbena and citrus-infused Pimm's, whilst revelling in wafts of chargrilled chicken. Over the years I have cooked and presented my sons with so many dishes, some being particularly onerous, but there is always an 'ooh' and an 'aah' from them whenever I prepare the easiest accompaniment to any food. My 'anytime guacamole' goes with absolutely anything and I mean anything. In our house it's devoured with my homemade tortilla chips. By that I don't mean that I'm mixing the masa harina to form a dough, (although that isn't too difficult either and is well worth doing for those who are gluten free). I usually buy soft corn and flour tortillas, cut them up into small triangles and deep fry. Allow to cool and store them in an airtight container for several days. For those of you who are carb free, devour this guacamole with your meat, chicken, fish or vegetables. Alternatively, spread onto your toast, put it in your sandwiches or just use it as a dressing for your salads, by loosening it with fat free yoghurt. I'm sure you'll enjoy what in our home is simply referred to as 'guac!'

Guacamole

Serves 4-6

  • 4 ripe Avocados
  • 3 tablespoons of fat free Natural Yoghurt (use sour cream if you want to indulge!)
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Lime
  • 2 Tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 Green Chilli, finely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons Coriander, finely chopped
  • Salt to taste (I use just under a teaspoon in this recipe)

Method

  • Halve and stone the avocados and scoop the flesh out and place into a bowl.
  • Add the juice of a whole lemon & the juice of a whole lime into the bowl with the avocados.
  • Add all the other ingredients into the bowl and mash the avocados with a fork or a potato masher.
  • Make sure that all the ingredients are well mixed. I prefer to do this by hand rather than in my food processor, because I like the guacamole to have texture. It can however be blended together in a food processor if you want a smooth consistency.

Tips

  • I make and serve my guacamole in a traditional Mexican Molcajete. This is a mortar and the Tejolete is the pestle, which are hand carved from a single piece of basalt rock. It's perfect for crushing spices and making spice blends and I also use it for making homemade pesto.
  • If you want to use the guacamole as a dressing for your salads, I would blitz all the ingredients in a food processor and add another 3 tablespoons of fat free yoghurt to loosen it.